To cheer up a friend, four guys (John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke) head to the ski resort that figured heavily in three of their wild youths. Disappointment over how the years have shabbily treated the town and ski lodge leads way to a night of heavy drinking in a hot tub. But as the title of the film attests to and the quartet quickly learn upon waking the next morning, it was no ordinary hot tub that they took their drunken dip in. They find themselves in 1986 and the three older friends realize that this may be a chance to change how their lives turned out.
If this sounds like a middle-aged version of Back To The Future, you’d be right. (One character even gets a story point directly lifted from the film, though here it pays off much differently for him than for Michael J. Fox.) The movie does sidestep the issue that these guys all kiss and two of them have sex with women roughly half their age. But then again, if this is a mid-life crisis fantasy, so it is probably to be expected.
Thankfully, the movie concentrates on finding laughs in its characters and situations, not in its setting. Things could very easily have degenerated in to a series of “Oh look, legwarmers! Weren’t they stupid!?” style of gags. Instead it finds its laughs in these three guys on the cusp of middle-age suddenly deciding whether or not to try and keep the one great girlfriend that got away, take a second stab at a music career or maybe avoid the fistfight that will shatter their inner confidence.
That’s not to say it doesn’t take advantage of the audience’s knowledge of `80s films. Skiing played a big part in Cusack’s Better Off Dead and in teen sex comedies like Hot Dog. A scene late in the film is staged just like a famous scene from one of John Hughes’s most famous films. There are certainly plenty of other references that speed by for those quick enough to catch them.
The movie assumes that the audience is familiar enough with the conventions of time travel stories (and some of them like the old Quantum Leap television series gets a knowing wink) and quickly dispenses with the obligatory scene in which one character warns the others about the dangers of changing the past.
At a crisp 90 minutes, Hot Tub Time Machine movies along at a good pace, though like its three middle-agers, it sags a bit around the middle when it tries to add a bit of pathos into the mix. Cusack, who star first rose in the latter half of the ‘80s, feels likes he’s playing a grown up version of Lloyd Dobler or Lane Meyer. Unfortunately, he is given the weakest material to work with out of the four leads and leaves me wondering if there wasn’t more of his performance left on the cutting room floor. Corddray’s normally broad comedic acting style is reined in somewhat, which helps bolster the moments when his character drops his boisterous attitude, exposing a more vulnerable side. It is a great turn which balances nicely with Craig Robinson’s more subtle and quiet, but no less funny, performance.